By Paul Blythe
Thanks to President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress, Florida residents were in line to benefit this year from programs that not only would address climate change and environmental pollution, but that would provide government agencies, businesses, non-profits and residents millions of dollars for climate-change planning, energy audits, building upgrades and retrofits, and energy-efficient product rebates.
We’re talking about $378 million in federal grants that Florida would receive: $354 million from the Inflation Reduction Act aimed at improving energy efficiency in the state and $24 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve wastewater pumping and upgrade rural wastewater systems.
But in June, as he wrapped up the last of his duties from the legislative session before starting non-stop campaigning for Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed two line-items of the Florida Legislature’s 2023-2024 $116.5 billion budget that would have created the system for the state to start applying for and receiving the federal money.
It didn’t draw much attention at the time because it didn’t appear to be much on the surface: just the $24 million Infrastructure Investment grant and a $5 million federal grant for Florida to set up programs to distribute rebates.
But that $5 million was necessary to hire the people, do the planning and create the website to distribute $174 million in rebates to Florida residents and businesses for energy-efficient building improvements, $173 million for rebates for the purchase of energy-efficient appliances and $7 million for training electrification contractors.
Because DeSantis refused the $5 million federal grant to set up an accountability system for channeling the federal money to residents, the Florida Office of Energy had to send three letters, one for each of the block grants, notifying the Biden administration that the state was forfeiting the federal funding and withdrawing from the block grant programs, according to a report in The Capitolist, a Tallahassee blog with ties to NextEra Energy Inc.’s Florida Power & Light and the first outlet to report the significance of the vetoes.
A Florida government official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told Bloomberg News that DeSantis’ decision was a surprise.
But why would it be a surprise?
This is an administration that objects to federal clean energy policies at every turn. Just this week, the Public Service Commission, the governor-appointed board that regulates Florida’s utilities, voted to oppose a new rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would set new, tougher pollution standards for power plants fueled by natural gas and coal while shifting to cleaner fuels such as green hydrogen, over the next two decades. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions, which cause global warming and harm people’s health.
The PSC’s objection is that the EPA rule change could increase the cost of electricity for Florida consumers and reduce the reliability of the state’s power grid because new technologies like green hydrogen are untested.
Yes, tougher standards are going to drive up costs in the short term, but in the face of catastrophic disasters brought on by global warming, real leaders know changes are necessary and short-term cost increases may be the best path forward to long-term savings.
Meanwhile, even when the Biden administration provides money to help Floridians with the added costs of more efficient electrical equipment, DeSantis refuses the money seemingly just to make a point. Sometimes federal grants require a match from the states, but these grants required no expenditures from the state.
“These programs directly benefit homeowners and renters and these rebates mean that people in Florida would get lower utility bills and healthier and more comfortable homes as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions. The federal money will help pay for that so it will be a real loss if they don’t implement these programs,” Lowell Ungar, director of federal policy for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told Bloomberg.
The governor’s office did not respond to a Capitolist request for more information about DeSantis’ reasoning for the vetoes. It also did not respond to requests for elaboration from several other publications, including Bloomberg and Electrek, a news and commentary website focusing on the transition from fossil-fuel transport to electric transport.
DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern did tell The Washington Post in an email that “the governor reviews every bill and appropriation that comes across his desk and uses his authority under the Florida Constitution to veto bills that he believes are bad public policy.”
But isn’t it more likely that DeSantis, about ready to hit the Republican campaign trail, put his personal politics ahead of the people of Florida?
Couldn’t the real problem have been that by accepting the money, DeSantis would be advancing Biden’s and Democrats’ clean energy goals just as Biden was hitting the road to show how funding from his two signature laws were helping Republican states?
Might it have been part of a campaign strategy to take away a talking point for opponents that DeSantis had caved to liberals by taking Biden administration money for Florida programs? After all, both the inflation reduction act and the infrastructure act, although called bipartisan, were passed by large Democratic majorities and just a few Republicans in Congress. No Florida Republican senators or representatives had voted for either bill.
Doing something sensible about energy like helping the Florida move to greater use of electric appliances and vehicles might tarnish the image of the governor who a few months earlier proposed tax credits for gas stoves as part of the MAGA Republicans’ “liberals are going to take your gas stoves” scare.
Too bad, as Electrek noted, DeSantis’ rejection of the money in an attempt to win Republican votes is going to cost Florida residents a lot of money, not only from the loss of the federal grants but from a more expensive, less efficient power grid as Florida gets hotter and hotter.
And, as The Capitolist pointed out, “All 50 states received block grant allocations under the same program and had broad authority to develop programs to spend the dollars on energy efficiency improvements. As a result of the vetoes, federal dollars paid by Floridians will likely be distributed to other states, potentially opening up DeSantis to criticism that his refusal of the funding not only hurts Floridians, but allows more progressive governors to use Florida’s money to promote more progressive energy initiatives.”
DeSantis loses and so does Florida. What do you know, just another lose-lose policy from DeSantis.
More on this issue in an opinion piece by Climate Reality Project Leader Susan Nugent on the Invading Sea website (www.theinvadingsea.com).